An award-winning photo was disqualified from the AI category of a competition because it turned out to be real

A flaming tucks its head and neck beneath its body.
(Image credit: Miles Astray)

Flamingone, a photo by Miles Astray depicting a flamingo bending its neck to hide its head beneath its body, won the People's Vote award and a bronze prize in the AI category of this year's 1839 Color Photography Contest ("Named after the year the medium was first made widely available to the public," according to its website). And then it was disqualified for being a real photo.

"I wanted to show that nature can still beat the machine and that there is still merit in real work from real creatives," the photographer told PetaPixel. "After seeing recent instances of AI-generated imagery beating actual photos in competitions, I started thinking about turning the story and its implications around by submitting a real photo into an AI competition."

Back in 2022, AI artist Jason Allen won first prize in the Colorado State Fair fine arts competition. An uproar followed, and we asked Allen for his thoughts. "I think the backlash is par for the course for any major advancement in technology as it pertains to art", he said. "Such was the case with the camera, threatening portrait artists in the past, where the guy 'didn't have to do anything except press a button.' Of course, we know that is ridiculous now, but it takes time to accept new eras of art advances."

Then in 2023 Boris Eldagsen won the creative open category in the Sony World Photography Awards before revealing his image was created by AI. "AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this", he said at the time. "They are different entities. AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award."

Eldagsen was trying to make the point that photography awards were not ready for AI, and he seems to have been right. The 1839 competition's judges include directors and managers from The New York Times, Christie's, Getty Images, and the Maddox Gallery, none of whom were able to tell the difference between an AI creation and a real photograph of a flamingo tucking its head away.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.